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A few weeks ago, I conducted a BEEF Daily Reader Poll to learn more about everyone that reads this blog, as well as discuss the next generation of food producers. When I made the decision to move close to my family's cattle operation near Mitchell, S.D. after graduating from South Dakota State University, I knew that I was incredibly lucky to be able to pursue a career in communications while staying connected with my beef cattle production roots. As I think about my often challenging transition back to the ranch with my family, I thought it would be a good time to discuss some of the trends that will change the face of food production in the upcoming years, and what these trends mean for all of us.
According to the latest census, the average age of a farmer is now 57.1, up from 55.3 years old in 2002. In the years ahead, we will watch many ranching operations pass hands. Will these businesses continue to operate, or will they be sold to outside hunting or development interests? And, what do we do about it as the average age of the American farmer advances? Who will be the next generation of food producers?
Additionally, the census reported that only 35% of all farms reported no off-farm income over the past five years. What that means is that 65% of all farmers have to work another job to make ends meet (including myself). And sadder than that is that only 42% of farmers reported net cash gains in 2007 – the rest of the farmers had net losses, meaning they lost money! As this census is from 2007, I'm sure these staggering numbers have only escalated in light of hard economic times of the past two years.
Without a doubt, it's a difficult time for beginning farmers and ranchers to even think about getting into production agriculture, and I know of a lot of young people waiting for their golden opportunity while they man a desk in an office job. While we know the next generation has the passion and determination to continue our strongheld traditions in food production, how can we alleviate the economic hardships that go with it? Today, I'm looking for a conversation on the next generation of agriculturalists. What are your plans for the future? How can we improve things for the better? How can we help provide opportunities for young people interested in production agriculture? Inquiring minds want to know...
BEEF Daily Quick Fact: Of the 2.2 million principal farm operators in the nation, 1.2 million report something other than farming as their primary occupation. (2007 Ag Census)